28 JUNE 2017 – Today, the South Gauteng High Court confirmed that public schools are not permitted to promote or allow their staff to promote only one or predominantly one religion to the exclusion of others. This was found to be contrary to the Constitution’s provisions on cultural and religious freedom.
The South Gauteng High Court delivered its judgment in matter brought by the Orginisasie vir Godsdientse-Onderrig en Demokrasie (OGOD) and Laerskool Randhart and Others. At the heart of the case was the interpretation of the right to freedom of religion enshrined in section 15 of our Constitution, and whether public schools are entitled to promote one religion to the exclusion of all others.
SECTION27 represented the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) who intervened as amicus curiae. In addition to making submissions in support of the National Religion Policy, which is aimed at celebrating diversity in our country, SECTION27 also made arguments around the questions of indirect coercion to practise a particular religion, and the proper role of school governing bodies (SGBs) in protecting and advancing the interests of the communities in which schools are situated.
The court did not, however, uphold OGOD’s challenges to the practices conducted at each of the respondent schools. OGOD argued that these practices are unconstitutional and that the schools should be interdicted from conducting them or allowing them to be conducted. The court held that in bringing this challenge, OGOD did not have regard to the principle of subsidiarity: schools are given power to determine their religious policies as long as they are consistent with the Constitution, the South African Schools Act and the relevant provincial legislation. Thus, it would need to be shown that either the schools’ practices are in breach of the policy adopted by the SGB, or that the policies themselves, which authorise such conduct, violate the Constitution.
This is an important victory for promoting religious diversity in public spaces and for continuing efforts to address the ongoing inequality in the country as a result of historic laws. In the words of the court, “in this country our diversity is celebrated, not tolerated”.
See full judgment here: OGOD Judgment